I like Charlie Brooker. I really do. I follow him on Twitter, and I never get annoyed when he spends ages complaining about cars and John Lewis adverts, because I can’t drive and I don’t have any children. I begin with this pre-emptive apology, just to make clear that I am not the kind of person who reflexively hates Charlie Brooker and everything he does. Nor for that matter, am I the kind of person who finds the idea of a dramatic plot involving pig fucking intrinsically distasteful.
I did not, however, like the first episode of Black Mirror. The production values were high, the cast were uniformly better-than-average, and almost everything about it was completely acceptable, except that it wanted to be satire. And satire has to have some small relationship to the experienced world, otherwise it topples over into fantasy and absurdity. For satire to skewer, the fictional world from which you jab has to occupy approximately the same plane as the real world you want to hear squealing. Unfortunately, Black Mirror seemed set in an entirely imaginary world, in which the British public – as patriotic and gung-ho a bunch of defenders of national pride as you’re ever likely to meet – would put up with the idea of their elected leader – the representative of their collective democratic will – being humiliated on the global stage. The British already hate their role as obsequious butler to America’s wanton playboy (yes, Arthur is actually a satire about international relations) – the idea that they would willingly participate in being branded as a nation of pig-fiddlers is just too far beyond the pail…
If all the program wanted to do was make you imagine David Cameron having sex with a sow, then it could have been regarded as a flawless success. However, in the run-up to broadcast, there were too many allusions in the press to Gordon Brown’s apology for calling Gillian Duffy a ‘bigoted woman’ for this not to have been part of the accompanying expository PR guff. Therefore, we’re clearly supposed to see the two acts – apologising for bluff Scottish bad manners, and bestiality – as being on the same continuum. This is clearly ridiculous. Gordon Brown was rude, he was caught calling someone something that he wouldn’t have called them to their face. This was picked up by both old and new media, and after a brief firestorm of opinion he apologised, which to be frank, pretty much any well-raised Presbyterian boy probably would have done eventually anyway.
I think the ultimate failure of the premise of Black Mirror is best expressed as a simple thought experiment. Imagine the same scenario, only this time instead of porking a hog, replace the kidnapper’s demand with any of the demands of the Occupy movement. Does the story still end with Government capitulation? Thought not.